Social media ban for minors moves forward in the House
Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer concept for amazement, astonishment, making a mistake, stunned and speechless or seeing something he shouldn't see

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer
Lawmakers say it's time to block kids from going online the same way Florida stops them from entering casinos.

A House committee boosted the chances of Florida barring minors from social media.

The House Regulatory Reform and Economic Development Subcommittee advanced legislation (HB 1) on a 13-1 vote. The bill would prohibit accounts for children age 16 and younger. The committee also passed a public records bill (HB 1377) connected to enforcement of the legislation if it becomes law.

Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican, classified the bill as an extension of a bipartisan social media literacy bill passed last year.

“Social media, in essence, highlights and underscores and pokes, puts exclamation points on, and italicizes and yells from the rooftops, the difference and disparities and bullying,” Sirois said. “It amplifies haves and have nots, who’s on the ski trip and who isn’t, who went to prom, who had a date to prom, who doesn’t. It amplifies all of these different things that kids are stacking themselves up against one another.”

The bill would also require tools be available for users ages 16 to 18 to report abusive and illicit activity online.

Some Democrats on the committee balked at the sudden limitation on parental rights. Rep. Ashley Gantt, a Miami Democrat, said she understood the intent of the bill, but that parents should have the final say on what their children do online. She noted some families even have incomes from minors using social media platforms.

“I 100% understand the motivation behind this bill as a former middle school and high school teacher,” she said. “It just contradicts how we allow parents to have the ability to make decisions for their child.”

Sirois said the state places numerous restrictions to stop exposing children to immoral activity.

“There is no parental waiver that I can sign to bring the child into a casino,” he said. “That is something that legislators have established, that we’ve arrived to through consensus, because we understand that’s in the best interests of the child.”

The lawmakers behind the bill said their conversation with social media companies to date has been limited, but they remain open to input.

“They understand that the American public is very alarmed at the state of play for our youth online,” said Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican.

“They responded to it by in some cases offering a children’s only platform or hosting courses where parents can enroll and understand ways that you could track your child’s account or social media literacy courses for parents or grandparents who are raising their children. Social media companies know there is an alarming cause of concern for parents around this country.”

Ultimately, Gantt was the only Democrat to vote against the bill, but other Democrats voiced concerns about whether the bill can be enforced practically.

Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat, said she sent a copy of the bill to 114 Hillsborough County students for input. She said many suggested different approaches, such as having children-only focused versions of social media platforms may be more appropriate than simply restricting children from going online.

McFarland said many companies have tried to prevent dangerous material like child pornography, but to no avail.

Valdes also questioned how the state could stop black-market accounts. McFarland acknowledged the state can never completely stop illegal accounts, but she said many third-party providers have sound verification products checking age and identity.

Rep. Randy Maggard, a Dade City Republican, said he would like to see, as the bill works through the process, a way to ensure those third parties verifying identities aren’t controlled by social media companies.

McFarland said compliance with the law, whether its requirements on companies or on minors in the future, will be administered in the future.

“We’re setting the framework for what we want the protections to be when it comes to compliance. We’re lawmakers. We write laws all the time and they are broken all the time,” she said.

“So even if we set the most ironclad excellent framework, I am certain particularly in Florida when we have such enterprising freedom-loving youth, there will be exceptions. And I would imagine that Rep. Valdes’ students are already figuring out ways to game the system.”

The legislation is a priority for Speaker Paul Renner that he spotlighted in an opening day speech.

The legislation defines a social media platform as one where users can upload content or view materials put up by others, and where the companies providing the service can track the activity of users.

That covers such major platforms as Facebook, Instagram or X.

The legislation specifically excludes any exclusive communication software such as e-mail or direct messaging. It also exempts streaming platforms providing only licensed media that can be consumed by individuals.

But user-generated content puts a platform in the snares of the law. That seems to lump platforms like YouTube in with social media, while exempting properties such as Netflix or Disney+.

The bill heads now for the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Erin Grall is sponsoring a similar bill (SB 1788) awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Dont Say FLA

    January 11, 2024 at 1:01 pm

    This right here is Rhonda’s golden ticket into every family’s phones.

    The State gotta be sure parents aren’t letting their 16yo’s see boobies or gay stuff. Only way to KNOW is to investigate all the phones.

    Of course today they say that’ll never happen. They’ll NEVER confiscate and dig into any family’s phone ever period.

    But next year they’ll say this has no teeth without enforcement, and as much as G0P hates to pry into everyone’s personal phones, they are forced I SAY FORCED to pry into everyone’s personal phones to make sure kids aren’t seeing anything the G0P doesn’t approve of.

  • Mariella Garacci

    January 11, 2024 at 11:26 pm

    How exactly will they know if the person who registers the account is the age they say they are? Also PARENTAL RIGHTS AMIRITE?

Comments are closed.


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